There's a new wave threatening the livelihoods of every South African and it isn't Covid.

Experts believe that, every two seconds, someone in the world has their identity stolen. Unlike Covid-19, the symptoms of this crime wave are often only experienced months after the actual theft has taken place. That's when unsuspecting South Africans start receiving letters of demand for debts they never signed up for, or find that their applications for credit are denied because their credit profile has been ruined.

The ramifications of identity theft, and the subsequent fraud committed using your personal details, can be debilitating and life-changing. It could take a long time before the damage is repaired.

Like with Covid, your best protection against identity theft are the precautions you take to prevent becoming the next victim. But before you learn how best to safeguard your personal information, you need to understand what you are up against.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is when someone uses your personal information, without your permission, to gain access to your bank accounts or buy goods and services. Your personal information includes your ID number, your passwords and PIN numbers, and even your bank statements and proof of address.

Criminals are constantly updating their methods of attack. They use fake websites, SMSs and emails with suspicious links. They try to steal your cellphone and perform a sim swap, allowing them to intercept one time PINs (OTPs). They have even resorted to stealing your postal mail and rummaging through your refuse in order to get their hands on your information. Once they have it, they will commit fraud using your details, setting up cellphone contracts and buying all manner of goods — all of which, you will end up paying for.

How can you protect yourself against identity theft?

  • Check your credit profile

    Don't wait until it is too late. Your credit profile will give you an up-to-date picture of your credit history, so you will be able to spot any accounts or debts that you know you haven't signed up for. This means you can take action to stop the fraud before your credit score is ruined.

    Check your credit report every month before the damage is done.  Your monthly credit report can be accessed FREE by all South Africans on African Bank's internet banking or App.  You can access your FREE credit report by registering on the African Bank website or downloading the App.  (Use bitley link from Brandon for electronic placements) 
  • Keep your personal documents safe

    Immediately report and replace lost ID documents, passports and drivers' licences. Destroy expired cards before disposing of them. If you want to put documents like bank statements in the trash, shred them first so that criminals cannot read any sensitive information.
  • Do not give out personal information over the phone

    Criminals often impersonate bank employees on the phone in a bid to gain access to your personal information. Never give out your PIN, passwords or ID number over the phone. Remember: your bank will never ask you for these details.
  • Enable bank notifications on your phone

    Stay in control of your finances. Enable SMS notifications so that you know when money has left your account.
  • Create strong passwords

    Passwords are the lock that keeps our money and personal information safe. Make them strong by using a combination of words, numbers and special characters. Don't use your name or that of people close to you. The same goes for birth dates. These are easy for criminals to guess or figure out, often by just going through your social media profile.

What to do if you are a victim of identity theft and fraud

If you think your personal information has been compromised, take action immediately.

  • Contact the SAPS and the institution or company where the fraud was committed. The police should provide you with a case number, while the institution or company will give you a reference number.
  • If a bank account has been opened in your name, close it, as well as your existing bank accounts, immediately. Make sure to request new PINs and passwords.
  • If your cellphone has been stolen, blacklist the phone with your service provider and make sure that your number has not been targeted in a sim swap.
  • If you fear your data or personal information has been compromised, change your passwords immediately.

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